The ten-day-long Delhi International Arts Festival extravaganza kicked off with some special acts by international artists.
Winters bring out the best in Delhi. As the harsh summer heat loosens its grip of the plains, the city takes on a new hue. The artistic pulse of Delhi that had slowed down to a languorous pace suddenly begins to beat with fresh energy. The cultural thermometer heads up as new art shows and festivals are organised across the capital. One such festival that recently added to the artistic buzz in the city was the Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF), organised by the Prasiddha Foundation. A ten-day long celebration of music and dance, the festival featured classical dance recitals, instrumental music shows, jazz recitals, puppet shows, tribal art exhibitions, dancing dervishes, percussion beats, multimedia presentations, gypsy rock music and much more.
There were the usual suspects, some of whom one will get to see time and again in many more such festivals this season. But there were certain outstanding performances as well—most of them by international artists who truly brought their local customs and traditions alive on stage. One such ensemble was Burshtyn from Belarus. Founded in 2005 with aid from the Kobrin Palace of Culture, this group has been singing and dancing into people’s hearts all across Europe. This was the first performance in India for this lively assortment of 20 vocalists, instrumentalists and dancers. “Our songs are centred on local customs, folktales, the joy of falling in love and then the misery of parting from one’s beloved,” says director Tatiava Totolina.
As the bayans and accordions struck a note, four pairs of dancers emerged on stage to give you a glimpse of a Kobrin wedding through the songs Chastooshka Zaprashaem na Vyasele (Welcome to the Wedding) and Charachku za Molodyh (Let’s Raise our Glasses to the Newlyweds). One could see the bride’s friends preparing a wreath of blossoms that will be her main adornment during the ceremony. Next up was the matchmaker bustling about the stage, dressed in two towels, which are a symbol of well-being, kindness and longevity. The buoyant tunes, elaborate costumes and infectious energy of the artists made the performance a delight to behold. “Burshtyn means amber or warmth in Belarus. We try to spread that warmth to everyone in the audience,” adds Tatiava. The ensemble’s repertoire seems to be heavily inspired by the Ukrainian and Polish cultures. “Kobrin, the place where most of the artists are from, shares its border with these two countries. Hence we can’t help being influenced by the art and music from Ukraine and Poland,” explains Tatiava.
From the lively tunes of Belarus, we moved on to the haunting music of the Columbian Andes. Armed with traditional string instruments, the trio from the group El Barbero Del Socorro spun out a beautiful indigenous style of music called the Bambuco. “This is a slow and sad rhythm that has a very strong European influence,” says Ricardo Varela Villalbla. He, along with Carlos Acosta D’Lima and Edwin Castaneda Gonzalez, has been playing the tiple,
requinto and contrabass for the past ten years. “The tiple, which dates back to the 18th century, is the smallest of the three string instruments, while
the requinto is a higher pitched version of an instrument—it could be any instrument, in this case it’s a guitar,” he explains.
The piece by El Barbero Del Socorro was preceded by yet another remarkable performance from the South American continent. Accomplished pianist Paulo Zereu presented classical pieces by Brazilian legends like Heitor Villa-Lobos and Marlos Nobre. His presentation brought together local rhythms and European stylistic elements. Danca do Indio Branco and Grande Fantaisie Triomphale were especially noteworthy for their strong notes and exultant melodies. “Most of the Brazilian greats had gone to Europe to study. Hence their style has acquired that classical touch. However, legends like Villa-Lobos always took some traditional tune as their motif,” he explains. This can be best seen in Lobos’ works Amazonas and Uirapuru, in which he uses Brazilian folk tales, sounds of the jungle and notes of the nose flute. It is no wonder then that he has been described as ‘the single most significant creative figure in 20th century Brazilian art music.’ After having done a course in music pedagogy at the acclaimed Akademie fur Musik Padagogik in Mainz, Paolo has been performing in Brazil, Europe and Asia as a chamber musician in solo recitals. “Just like Brazil, India too has a great tradition of music. Though some members of the audience might not get the finer nuances of what I am playing, they get my perception of feeling. And that’s what matters,” he says.
It was local arts, redolent with fragrant folkloric flavours that ruled the roost at DIAF. Audiences flocked to the venues, intrigued by the little known cultures of cities that were earlier mere pointers on the map. One of the most incredible performances in the festival came from an ensemble originally from the tiny island of Okinawa. Located in the southernmost part of Japan, the culture and performing arts of Okinawa are distinct from those in the rest of the country. The close proximity to Korea, China and the Philippines has added a distinct Southeast Asian touch to its culture. This group of 20 artists performed the traditional Ryukyuan music, which is divided into classical music and folk songs. “The classical music was generally performed for the royals; hence it is more slow and sophisticated. The artists would use a sanshin—a banjo like instrument which was often bound by snakeskin, a 13-string long zither or koto, and a three string bowed lute called the kokyo in these performances,” explains Teruyuki Hoshina, director, Japanese language and Japanese studies.
Life has been far from easy for a lot of these artists, with most of them belonging to nomadic groups. It was to highlight the human rights of such tribes that the Nomadic Orchestra of the World was first started in 2007 in association with Chinh—by the husband-wife duo of Meenakshi and Vinay Rai. The first step of this endeavour has been to establish linkages of Indian nomadic communities with those in Italy and Greece. It is for this reason that a jugalbandi of Rajasthani performers and Italian artists was created for the festival. “It has now been established that nearly 1,200 gypsies from India migrated to other parts of the world. If you notice, the language of the Spanish nomadic tribes and Indian gypsies is very similar. And it is such an honour to perform in a region where it all first started,” gushes Andrea, one of the five Italian artists performing at the festival. “Music is the language of love and compassion. It is something that cuts across boundaries, religions and tribes. Through festivals like these, we hope to spread this message to as many people as we can,” he says.